Thanksgiving came to our house a bit late this year. It’s not something we celebrate in Italy but being American it is a holiday I traditionally love and usually manage to spend with my expat friends right after finishing what is always the last tour of my season, often a week in Rome. At our expat Thanksgiving everybody makes something, and we spend a lovely day together eating and drinking until we are full and drowsy. We are not all American. Our group is rounded out by a Brits, a South African, a Canadian and a friend from Australia. Some of us have kids, some don’t, some are still married to the Italian that kept them here and some are happily divorced and never went back home. We all have some things in common and are all vastly different people. We have lively debates about politics, vaccinations, the joys, and sorrows of life in Italy and everything in between. This year we weren’t able to get together to celebrate, and frankly I wasn’t in the mood. My youngest son has been sick for a couple of months and we are still trying to figure out the cause and considering the idea that it might be psychological. This year has been hard on all of us, and by all of us I am not just talking about my family. Lifting myself out of one of the now uncountable number of slumps I have experienced this year more than a week later, I decided we should at least have a mini-Thanksgiving at home. With a sweet potato (yes, one) left over from the last shopping trip I took to a big supermarket before the last lockdown began, mixed with potatoes from our garden, I managed to get some dried cranberries from my local grocer, and a turkey thigh/drumstick from the butchers. It was traditional enough, but I missed my girlfriends, and I took no pictures.
After lunch I sat down with my husband to watch the news which thankfully wasn’t just about Covid. Italian news always covers art, food, and culture. If this ever stops, I will know the world is coming to an end. As I watched a story about the Accademia Museum in Venice, I named off all the masterpieces they showed, “not too rusty,” I thought. Then came Rome where they talked about Palazzo Barberini, a museum I have yet to visit although it is on my list. I was struck by how much I miss seeing all this art which is so ingrained in what I do even if the museum tours are led by local guides. I miss the local guides whom I have known for years that bring their cities and museums to life with their detailed stories and in-depth history. I am a generalist and work all over Italy and they are specialists in their regions or cities. I am also a bridge and strive to make connections between the well-recorded history and how it relates to us. Taking things from the past and relating them to our present and trying to not simply rattle off facts and numbers, but to create a cultural experience that will remain as a memory, long after the facts have faded into the background. I miss the hotels and restaurants and all the people I regularly see over the course of the year. I miss these connections so much that it hurts, and I watched this feature with tears in my eyes, salty drops borne of nostalgia and loss.
When we are able to resume traveling again in what I hope is the not too distant future, I know I will be viewing what I see through new eyes and am already wondering what comparisons I can draw. Martyrdom, plague, war, greed, pride, inequality, decadence, and poverty are just a few of the things that come to mind in reflecting on this last year and all these themes are reflected in the art we see from the most ancient through to the present. I have chosen a few works of art from the museums in the newscast I mentioned above. While hundreds of years old, they still reflect on the problems we are facing today. See if any of these things ring true with you.
Giorgione’s (1477-1510) “La Vecchia,” represents the age group most at risk for contracting Covid19 and in Giorgione’s time, a woman who lived this long would have survived many hardships, including the plague and the artist himself, died of the plague.
The Four Elements by Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera is a beautiful representation of the forces of nature, wind, water, earth, and fire. Strikingly beautiful and sometime disastrous, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes were as evident this year as ever. Rosalba Carriera, (1673-1757) was also one of the most successful female artists in history and was born into a lower -middle class Venetian family to a working mother. She found success in what was very much a man’s world, so for me, she also represents women’s issues that still persist today.
The Miracle of the Slave by Jacopo Tintoretto in Venice’s Accademia Gallery represents a miracle which is just what we all need right now. In this painting an unjust act is being punished. A wealthy man on a throne is responsible for torturing a slave he caught praying at the tomb of St. Mark when suddenly St. Mark sweeps down like a superhero (he is invisible to those in the scene) and breaks the tools of torture. The crowd is diverse, with different ethnicities represented, a mother and her child, a soldier, and a wealthy man who thought he was holding all the strings…
So, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and this crazy year is finally coming to an end. It has been a wild ride and there have been some high points together with the lows. Still here and a bit scarred, I know that things are starting to improve even if the process feels painfully slow. In sharing five minutes of history and the beauty around us even if it’s temporarily out of reach, the Italian news reminded me that as people we have always had trials to overcome and we are still here.